Not many hints can be found in the letter to the Romans. Paul’s attempts to unify the church on matters of ethnicity and the law did not require the entire community to adopt a single point of view, but merely to tolerate and mutually respect one another. Hermas’ attempts to unify the church, however, was another matter entirely. I sympathise greatly with his plight, as he considered an affinity to business and a lust for material prosperity as the main factors that were contaminating and destroying the church, but the manner in which he attempted to solve the problem set a dangerous precedent. Throughout his letter the issues of post baptismal sin and wealth was argued in a way that excluded all who disagreed, not only from the churches but from God. I understand that existential integrity was very important to the church, and may have been necessary for its survival, but in time this same line of reasoning was extended into matters of doctrine and intellectual belief. His answer to the churches problems was to give the church an authority that was beyond question, beyond reproach.
Dangerous trends such as this one can be seen throughout the epistles of the New Testament and later Christian documents. Another example is submission to the secular state. It was a common accusation of Christianity in those days that it was politically subversive and hostile to the authority of Caesar. Amazingly, two major stalwarts of early Christianity, Peter and Paul, were vociferous in their attempts to nullify the accusation. Paul’s command to submit to Governments in Romans 13 is situational and conditional, leading way to the churches later rejection of Caesar and his demands. Nevertheless, the foundation had been laid for a future peace to develop between Christians and the state, where social justice and political activism was sidelined. Even more disturbing is 1 Peter’s characterisation of Governors as the rewarders of righteous and punishers of evildoers. I do not mean to impose my own dispositions onto a letter written nearly two thousand years ago, but I think everyone can agree that there appears to be a major shift between Jesus rebellion against the religious institutions of the day and the early Christian’s call for submission to all authority.
Another example is the very structure of the house church, which seem to be the majority model that the early church adopted (the notable exception is Rome). The coming together of masters, slaves, the destitute, and prosperous businessmen was always going to lead to awkward social situations. I appreciate that Paul tried his best to encourage equality in the house churches over matters of spiritual gifts, the common meal, and almsgiving. However, I believe it is reasonable to conclude that there is an innate compromise in the model that led to an ignorance of certain sayings of Jesus and class antagonism. Robert Jewett, who is a wonderful scholar, called the house church “love-patriarchalism.”
On the other hand, you find figures in early Christianity that appears to be on the exact same wavelength with the message of Jesus. It was James who remarked that pure religion was taking care of orphans and widows in their distress (read: the people in society who could not look after themselves), and keeping yourself unstained by the world. In his epistle he also expounded on the teachings of Jesus that related to wealth, and took the existential essence of Christianity very seriously.
Too often in scholarship of Early Christianity the question of “Why did these things happen?” is prioritised and the question “Should these things have happened?” is ignored entirely. It is these themes that I will run with in the second part to the Quiet Revolution. Unlike in this post, I will actually argue for my position rather than just state it. Unfortunately, with university and part time work it should not be expected soon.